EPA’s Emissions Rule Would Likely Increase Carbon Dioxide

enhanced oil recovery

On the heels of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s official position that human-generated carbon dioxide is “extremely likely” the “dominant” cause of warming since the mid-20th Century, the Environmental Protection Agency’s simultaneously proposed rule to limit such emissions from fossil-fueled power plants is contradictory.

EPA has wholeheartedly sold the global warming “scientific consensus” justification for CO2 limits to the public, and as a result has conducted a “war against coal” in conjunction with environmental pressure groups for years. And President Obama – who was most recently vocal about it in June – called for the elimination of tax breaks for “Big Oil” and has repeatedly expressed opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

So what’s the contradiction?

Under the proposed EPA rule, newly built coal-fired power plants would have to eliminate 40 percent of their carbon dioxide emissions by using not-ready-for-prime-time capture and sequestration technologies. Where EPA, and Obama, lose all credibility is that in their strategy to make the procedure economically feasible, they expect much of the cost to be offset by selling the CO2 to companies that drill using a technique called enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

“The use of EOR lowers costs for production of domestic oil,” EPA explains in the proposed rule (page 262), “which promotes the important goal of energy independence.”

NLPC reported on the Obama administration’s massive effort to expand CO2 production for EOR in June. The Department of Energy has dedicated at least $9.2 billion to specific projects. But what would be the reason for pumping CO2 in the ground in order to extract otherwise unrecoverable oil? The only reason would is to burn it – which releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

William Yeatman, assistant director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, did some research and calculations on what would happen if utilities captured carbon dioxide from their power plants, transported it to oil companies’ fields where they practice EOR, pump the CO2 into the ground, extract the oil, and then burned it. His findings, unsurprisingly, are that CO2 used for EOR will result in a net increase in emissions and thus undermine the purpose of a carbon dioxide rule in the first place.

EPA “completely fails to take into account the expanded carbon footprint of the oil industry caused by its power plant rule,” Yeatman wrote for the GlobalWarming.org blog. By his estimates (you can check his math), Yeatman came up with 1.66 kilograms of CO2 emitted for each 1 kilogram of CO2 captured and then used in EOR.

“Assuming that a CCS project captures 600 lbs CO2 per megawatt-hour and that the plant is running at 85 percent capacity, then a typical coal plant in compliance with EPA’s (proposed) Carbon Pollution Standard would result in the emission of 1.3 million more kilograms of CO2 than the plant would ‘save’ per megawatt capacity annually,” Yeatman explained. “And that doesn’t include the emissions due to the energy input necessary to extract the oil.”

It would seem that if the administration simply wanted more oil in the U.S., all they’d need to do is greenlight the Keystone Pipeline and avoid the expense and trouble of generating and capturing the carbon dioxide they so often demonize. They’ve already labeled CO2 as a public toxin, more or less, to the point where EPA projects no new coal power plants in the U.S. through 2020 and perhaps beyond. A big reason for that is the new regulation, which only motivates mining companies to instead ship their coal overseas where it will be burned far dirtier than it would in America.

While Obama states that his goal is to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, his actions accomplish just the opposite. Besides the $9.2 billion for existing EOR demonstration projects, there are tens of billions of dollars that have poured into universities and government contractors for the purpose of capturing carbon dioxide and EOR. Taxpayers also support research into issues associated with the process, such as water use. The Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory even produced a 61-page report in December 2009 on how to deliver “Public Outreach and Education for Carbon Storage Projects.”

It makes you wonder how the president doesn’t recognize the inconsistency and hypocrisy in his policy implementations, but then again, there are so many that the contradictory effects are unavoidable. A simple example are his broadsides at the rich whom he regularly slams for taking advantage of the poor, while at the same time he doles out favors, regulations, grants and tax breaks to the “rich” people who have supported his agenda, such as green energy.

In the case of CO2 capture for EOR, the president is helping the “Big Oil” industry that a large contingent of his supporters – environmentalists – can’t stand. Obama’s confounding hyper-regulation marches on.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.